Fact Friday 325 - Dancing Shoes - Powered by the Charlotte Museum of History

 

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to celebrate the ringing in of 2022 with your loved ones (that still sounds like a fake year to me). Though my NYE was spent on the couch flipping through the various network programs, I’m hopeful that 2022 will bring new occasions to celebrate and gather. In that vein, today’s Fact Friday, written by Sydney, one of the Museum’s fantastic summer interns, is about an artifact of celebration: wedding shoes!

Margaret “Peggy” Alexander Ramsey was born in Charlotte in 1766 to John McKnitt Alexander and Jean Margaret Bain. She was the niece of Hezekiah and Mary Alexander, who lived at the Rock House. Peggy had eight brothers and sisters. Like most women from that time period, there’s not a lot known about Peggy’s personal life beyond her marriage and children. When she was about 23, she married Francis Alexander Ramsey in 1789 in Charlotte and then moved to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee where she had eight children. Peggy died in Knoxville in 1805.

The April 7, 1789 marriage certificate for Margaret (Peggy) Alexander and Francis Alexander Ramsey, signed by John McKnitt Alexander and Francis Ramsey. Francis had to pay 500 pounds to the state government for the marriage license.

On her wedding day, Peggy wore a pair of silk high heel shoes accented with bows and silver buckles. The shoes are currently on display at the Museum. They’re of a common design for the time with a pointed toe and are likely crafted from damask material, meaning that the pattern would be visible on both sides of the fabric. The shoes are said to have been made by Peggy’s father, John McKnitt Alexander – known for keeping the (now lost) records of the May 20th, 1775, convention that supposedly declared independence from Great Britain.

Peggy’s shoes are on display at The Charlotte Museum of History, along with shoe buckles that belonged to her father, John McKnitt Alexander. The shoes were reportedly made by John McKnitt for Peggy’s wedding, but they are well-worn, so Peggy likely wore them for other occasions. The shoes are about a size 5 and each shoe is shaped the same with no allowances for the left or right foot.

The buckles on display with Peggy’s shoes belonged to John McKnitt Alexander and were not used with Peggy’s shoes but are of a similar type. They have rounded corners and engraved scrollwork on the surface. The buckles are separate from the shoe because it could be reused as shoes wore out. Shoe buckles became popular in the mid-1500s as metal became more widely available. Shoes were not sold with buckles, so they had to be purchased or made separately. Buckles were made from a variety of materials including, but not limited to, silver, brass, iron, steel, copper, and pewter. Well-made buckles lasted for a longer period of time than shoes, so it was common for a person to have only one or two buckles that they would rotate with different shoes.  

Peggy’s shoes are worn, so she probably wore them several times after her wedding. You can even see sweat or water marks on the inside if you look closely. What other occasions would she have worn them? Although not much is known about Peggy, having these shoes and the buckles helps us get a glimpse of a moment in her life. These little windows into the past help us connect with Peggy in a way that we were not able to previously (have you ever worn too-small, uncomfortable shoes on a special occasion just because they were cute? Same). Uncovering the stories of women can be vastly more difficult than telling the stories of men. But that only makes it more important. I hope you’ll visit the Museum and see Peggy’s shoes and imagine wearing them and what her life must have been.

Happy New Year!

Sydney Johnson

Summer 2021 Intern

Charlotte Museum of History

Sources:

“Margaret Peggy McKnitt Alexander,” Ancestry.

The Charlotte Museum of History Archives.

Welch, John. “Buckle Up!,” Colonial Williamsburg. April 7, 2020.

About The Charlotte Museum of History

The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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Email chris@704shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass